Until the late nineteenth century, emotional distress in women (what we today would call Anxiety, Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder or PTSD) was almost universally diagnosed by the doctors of the day as “Hysteria”. Doctors believed that Hysteria was often caused by – wait for it – a woman’s uterus floating around her body. They literally called it “wandering womb.” Doctors suggested that a woman should get pregnant to cure this very real disorder. The fluids required to hold the baby would make the uterus heavy and force it to stay where it belonged.
Right, guys, that sounds totally legit.
One hundred years later we know Hysteria was actually a diagnosis that covered many disorders, and sometimes was simply just a case of doctors being sexist. We’ve come along way, right? Today, we tend to look at a diagnosis like Depression as something pretty specific. If you’re down, it’s a serotonin issue, so take these pills and wait a few weeks. Do some yoga and eat more fruit. All will be well. Sounds way more legit, right?
Yesterday I read an article about new scientific research that completely blows this theory out the window. Something I had long accepted as scientific fact doesn’t seem as simple as it did the last time I wrote about it. Ongoing research being conducted right now has found through testing patients’ blood and urine that there actually appear to be five distinct types of Depression, and not all of them are linked to serotonin. Apparently, 95% of those studied fell into one of the five camps. In fact, even though our default treatment for all Depression patients requiring medication seems to be SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, the most common anti-depressants), in some of these types of Depression, those medications can make patients much, much sicker. Three of the five types appear to have nothing to do with Serotonin at all!
As I read this article, so many things suddenly seemed to make sense. Why do some medications work for many, but not at all for many more? Why do some people react to SSRIs by spewing sunshine and rainbows while others react with violent actions towards themselves and others? The answer seems to be because Depression is not one monolithic illness, as we once thought Hysteria was too. It is a complicated series of illnesses, caused by trauma, environmental factors, heavy metals and yes, sometimes a lack of serotonin.
This study gives me hope. It shows me that in a matter of a few years we might be at a point where a simple blood test can eliminate months and even years of trial and error to find the right medication. That is months and months of our lives that Mood Disorder patients can get back because hopefully we won’t lose them in the first place. If a simple blood test can tell you what type of Depression you have, that can narrow down a true medical shot in the dark at five targets to just one well-lit bull’s-eye.
Read all about this study here.
About Sarah Lindsay
Sarah Lindsay is in her mid-twenties and lives in Toronto with her boyfriend and their dog (who also has some anxiety issues). Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005 at the age of 16 and is still trying to figure it out. Follow Sarah’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog, or additionally you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her new website: SarahsMoods.com